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Jeffco health department to work toward health equity in New Year

Five things to know about how to solve health inequity in the community

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Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) has made a New Year’s resolution. It is to invest time, work and heart into advancing health equity in Jefferson County.

“This year’s resolution is one of magnitude, or scale, more than one of category,” said Dr. Mark Johnson, JCPH’s executive director.

Some social, economic and ethical policies have led to exclusion, marginalization, discrimination and the reduction of opportunities for many to be healthy, he added.

“There are sources in society today that apparently would like us to believe that such inequities don’t exist,” Johnson said. “It is particularly important at this time for us to strive for health equity among vulnerable groups who do not share in the health benefits our society provides to others.”

5 things to know about health equity

1 What is health equity?

JCPH defines health equity as the attainment of the highest level of health possible for all individuals.

Basically, “health equity practices are a body of work and processes that address closing gaps, regardless of social or environmental barriers,” said Donna Viverette, supervisor of the county’s Tobacco Prevention Initiative.

The fundamental goal of health equity, she added, is that everyone can reach their full health potential.

2 What are determinants of health and how do they play a role in health equity?

Larger health issues, including health inequity, are addressed by starting conversation about the determinants of health. Examples of determinants of health are access to healthy food, safe housing, transportation, education, health care and other social and economic factors such as race and poverty. These things can hurt someone’s health but aren’t always things that they get to decide.

Health equity “requires focused societal and environmental efforts to deal with avoidable inequalities, historical injustices and the elimination of health disparities,” Johnson said. “We have to tackle inequities among Jefferson County communities, including racial and ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, our seniors, people living with disabilities and low-socioeconomic and geographic populations.”

3 What is JCPH’s Health Equity and Environmental Justice Collaborative?

The county’s Health Equity and Environmental Justice Collaborative looks at the health department’s internal practices and supports to ensure it is able to do external work toward achieving health equity.

It “was formed by a group of staff members who saw an opportunity to advance the health equity work already happening at JCPH,” said Jim Rada, director of Environmental Health Services and member of the collaborative.

The collaborative will help to create a department-wide policy regarding health equity, and to help advance conversation and action within the organization.

“Our goal,” Rada said, “is to make sure JCPH is doing everything we can to ensure the best health possible for all people.”

4 What is JCPH doing to achieve health equity?

In addition to the work of the Health Equity and Environmental Justice Collaborative, the health department will train its workforce on health equity topics and ways to incorporate equitable practices into their everyday work. It will also use data on the determinants of health to help inform public health decision-making. The department will continue to bring together community partners on the issues related to health equity, and provide a forum for everyone to learn more about health equity.

5 What can Jeffco residents do to help JCPH attain health equity in the community?

Jeffco residents can help by addressing conditions and policies that perpetuate poverty, allow unsafe housing and neighborhoods, lead to a lack of quality educational opportunities or are inherently discriminatory in nature, Johnson said.

Community members can start conversations with their health service providers, such as hospitals, physicians and the health department, and let them know what barriers they see and what they feel can be done to help, Viverette said.

“The health department is here as a resource” and can serve as a connector to other resources, she added. “Hearing from our community is critically important.”

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